As countries around the world are imposing travel restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus, here’s an update on what’s happening in London and Great Britain. At press time, there are 1,950 reported cases of coronavirus in the U.K. with 50,442 people having been tested.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has advised all Britons to avoid non-essential travel, including patronizing pubs, restaurants and clubs. As of Tuesday March 17, museums and most tourist attractions—including all theaters—have been shut; churches are closed; and Britons have also just been advised to cancel travel abroad for the next 30 days at a minimum. Schools remain open, but that is likely the next measure as the country proceeds into an unprecedented era of lockdown.
Not surprisingly, like the rest of the world, hotels, restaurants and tourism business are suffering. According to Emily Lumsden, spokesperson from London & Partners, “forward bookings for the next three months (through June 7, 2020) are down by 25.5 percent year-on-year. Bookings from all regions are now impacted by the coronavirus, with nine out of 15 global regions recording more cancellations than bookings.” Restaurants in the capital have closed temporarily or have switched to takeout and catering in an effort to bring in business, according to Eater London.
Around Great Britain, it's much the same in terms of cancellations from bookings abroad. For those with bookings in London or the U.K. in the coming months, the best bet is to check specific hotels for coronavirus cancellation policies. Many airlines and hotels are allowing rebooking with no cancellation fees; COVID-19 news is constantly updated and you can find comprehensive information from VisitBritain and London & Partners, particularly if you are looking for advice on rebookings and refunds.
Trade group UKHospitality has called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the government to step up its package of business support as the effect of coronavirus continues to spread. Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality CEO, commented: “The hospitality sector is facing a unique short-term cash flow catastrophe as customers are advised to stay away. Government must support businesses of all sizes through this period so we can bounce back and continue to be at the heart of our communities.”
For the moment, hotels in London and the countryside remain open for business, some reporting a slight uptick from domestic business, according to Carl Scott, owner of Woodford Barns, a small cottage and barge business in Suffolk, “We are getting bookings, either for right now in the case of last-minute availability or for September and Christmas," he tells us. "In the case of 'right-now bookings,' these are, almost without exception, people who were going abroad.”
From the five-star Heckfield Place in Hampshire, general manager Olivia Richli says, “Understandably, we lost all our overseas business for the next two months. These included several exclusive use events, so we should have been 100 percent full today but, fortunately, all have postponed to later in the year. The silver lining has been the increase in business we have seen from the U.K. market.” She adds, “If we do have to close the hotel, the team will move to our five-acre farm to step up food production and look at how we can support our local community with fresh produce, dairy and meat from our 37 Guernsey cows, chickens, pigs and sheep, which we tend on our 438-acre estate.”
Finally, in the spirit (literally) of “Keep Calm and Carry On,” Heckfield Place has converted the hotel’s supply of 60 proof spirit, which they normally use for homemade liquors, into hand-sanitizer by mixing it with tea tree and lavender oils. Similarly, in Scotland, Deeside Distillery, has transformed its Still River Gin—known as the "world's strongest gin"—into hand sanitizer by mixing it with a vegetable glycerine and aloe vera. To date, Deeside has donated 4,000 sanitizer packs to a variety of local organizations, primary schools and food banks. The company took action after learning that supermarkets were running low on hand sanitizer amid growing concerns among the public and reports of panic buying.